War Abroad Stokes Children’s Fears at Home

Growing up in the 70s and 80s in America, my generation was on the tail-end of those drills for preparing for bombs to drop should there be a nuclear war. We also were continually reminded of what war might look like from different forms of entertainment. Movies like “Red Dawn” and “Rocky IV” raised my generation to fear and loathe Soviet Russia, and we watched “The Miracle on Ice,” when the underdog U.S. Men’s Hockey Team beat the Soviets during the 1980 Winter Olympics medal round. The idea that “The Russians” were our enemies was hard-baked into our psyche.

Less than a decade later, the Soviet Union fell, and a wave of freedom spread across eastern Europe. Those vast changes today are contained in History Channel specials and history textbooks for today’s students with none of those memories.

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine shows that the former KGB leader is not interested in peace. He is trying to regain the prestige he feels was lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. That old animosity of the Russian government is creeping back into our minds and with validation.

The 27-nation strong European Union, often criticized for its lack of consensus, swiftly and unanimously approved severe economic sanctions, joining the United States in imposing a hefty toll for Putin’s aggression. The EU also committing funding — for the first time in its history — to purchase and deliver weapons to a country in conflict.

Despite polls showing Putin had strong support among Russians prior to the invasion, brave protesters took to the streets in Russia and in nations around the globe over the weekend, in support of Ukraine. An independent monitor that tracks arrests during protests reported more than 3,000 Russians were jailed for protesting the invasion.

As this “once in a lifetime historical event” plays out on television and on social media, we must explain this to a younger generation that has not seen anything like this. Doctors and psychologists report the news is causing anxiety and worry among children.

Now is the time to “Keep kids calm,” advised Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician, author, and creator of the Parenting Great Kids series. Her suggestions include considering the age and maturity of the child; if children are under the age of 8, do not say anything unless they ask about the war.

Talking about war with children stokes fear that violence might strike home, that their own mother or father might die. People should keep the dialogue simple for older children. Do not over-explain the situation, which could cause more anxiety.

Providing reassurances that they are safe, along with the rest of their family, is critical. Families should also be cognizant of when children are in the room and keep the news on only briefly. Viewing scenes of conflict can traumatize young people, fueling young imaginations.

As we pray and send support for the innocents impacted by the treacherous invasion of Ukraine, we must remember to educate younger Americans about the dangers of war, and the unlawful aggression of Putin’s military. We can certainly hope the Russian people, who themselves endured a brutal invasion by the Nazis during World War II, will rise and declare this invasion was unacceptable.

Should that happen, we just might see another underdog miracle, with democracy holding the line in Ukraine and the Russian people achieving their own end to tyranny.

About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action, and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”